Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reigning in Life

Earlier this week, I traveled back from Chicago with a layover in Philadelphia. After sampling a famous Phillie Cheese Steak, I opened my Bible and waited for my flight. A verse in Romans resonated with me and I began to commit it to memory.

“If because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:17

I thought about the concept of reigning. That certainly implies an element of victory, not being ruled by outside circumstances or emotions. Naturally, my thoughts eventually turned to my characters and if and how they exemplify this concept of “reigning in life.”

Do your characters speak to you?

I ran across a quote this week: "Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called 'mad' and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called 'writers' and they do pretty much the same thing." Meg Chittenden

I (and many of the authors on this blog) try to create characters who are real. Flawed. Struggling with sin and difficult circumstances. Often ruled by negative emotions. But what has been a characteristic feature of my stories is the impact of grace, the love of God lavished on my protagonist not based on personal merit (that would be wages, not grace).

In every novel, the protagonist encounters a significant obstacle to a goal, setting up a large enough conflict to carry the story (and our reader’s interest) for the 300-400 plus pages of the book. As a result of this conflict, the protagonist changes. This change is known as the “character arc.” The story resolves after the climax and we find our protagonist stronger with a new insight. Growth and balance have been achieved.

Along the way, I like to introduce my protagonist to grace. Often this concept will be contrasted to their own bend towards a performance-based self-acceptance. The protagonist is likely a very strong person who has worked hard and feels their success and worth are determined by their own hard work. Encountering grace in this setting is a paradigm bender!

Let’s go back to the verse. It says that those who encounter the abundance of grace will reign in life. Wow. That is a challenge to me. Am I reigning in life? Or am I letting circumstances or emotions reign?

And it gave me a new way of thinking about my protagonist’s character arc. He or she begins the story and quickly are plunged into trouble (if this doesn’t happen on page one, there had better be a good reason!). In the beginning, the protagonist is definitely not “reigning in life.” Past issues need resolution and are blocking personal growth, someone’s life is at stake, emotions rule and hope is fading. Step two: the protagonist encounters the abundance of grace. Step three, the climax: the protagonist overcomes the obstacle and the inner change mirrors the victory over the outward conflict. In the end, my character ends up on a different plane. Growth has occurred and in some way, in an area they previously struggled, he or she now reigns.

Back to you and me. We have received the abundance of grace that Paul talked about, have we not? So are we “reigning in life”?

Or not?

If not, why not?

It’s a challenge to me, and something I hope you’ll let simmer in your own life.

As for me, I’m off early, leaving the house at four a.m., bound for another airport. Destination: Atlanta. I’ll be at the book club that meets at the North Metro First Baptist Church on 4/24 at 2 pm, on WATC “Friends and Neighbors” show at noon on 4/26 and at the Lifeway store at the Mall of Georgia Crossing in Buford, GA from 7:30 to 9 pm on 4/26. Please come out and cheer me on. I’d love to meet some Atlanta area readers.

A chance to talk about writing and books, what fun.

And another chance to open my Bible in an airport and see what inspiration follows…



  1. The Chittenden quote made me laugh - when I interviewed several authors at last year's Book Expo, I asked them about the voices in their head!

    Reigning in life - excellent food for thought!

  2. Harry, great post! Thanks for sharing how grace impacts your protagonist's character arc. Enjoy your book signings in Atlanta :-)

  3. Thanks for the challenge, Harry. I need the challenge re reigning in my life right now. I love your picture by the way. It looks like one of our African sunsets.

  4. Hi Harry,

    You asked if our characters speak to us? All the time, I hear voices, especially when I'm starting a new project and they are all vying for my attention. I enjoy this phase of writing, and "being in demand" by my characters.

    As for reigning in life ... now that's a challenge. Let me sleep on that one.

  5. Agreed, Harry: we have voices in our heads. Mine are usually accompanied by dancing or embroiled in an argument. Do you suppose there's anything more therapeutic than imagining our conflicts in the confines of our own minds and amending faulty thought as we do? Like you, I strive mightily to allow every opportunity for my antagonists to find redemption, and not necessarily in my narrative. We are seed sowers, the harvest is up to God. Blessings.